Pretty

Pretty wasn’t really all that pretty to look at. She was just a white chicken. But she was a special white chicken. We were new hobby farmers, having bought a couple of acres of semi-rural land with an old house on it. The property had a new henhouse, but it was empty. It needed chickens.

I found tenants for the henhouse in a rather unusual way. I drove around until I saw a sign that said “Eggs,” at the end of a driveway  I assumed that if the people were selling eggs, they must have chickens, so I knocked on the door and asked if they had any birds they could sell me. I came away with a dozen fertilized eggs, a small white chicken – maybe a bantie – and a big rooster who bullied every chicken that came to live with us. Of course, we named him Bully.

The little white bantie was pretty so, without straining my brain to be original, I called her Pretty. My flock of stragglers, chickens I managed to hatch and others I bought, had variety and each bird had a name,  but Pretty was the first and she was always special. I think the chicks in this photo of about 33 years ago may have been some of Pretty’s babies.

Anneli and Chicks

I loved my chicks.

 

Pretty was very friendly. When I came near, she ran over to me and crouched down so I could pick her up. I think she liked being held and petted. Later when I had other chickens in the henhouse and sometimes had to separate them (if some banties were brooding a clutch of eggs, or if some old biddy was establishing a new pecking order), Captain Gary built a  shelter with a perch so these chickens could be under cover and in their own chicken-wire pen. But at night the pen had to be closed up with a big sheet of plywood so the raccoons wouldn’t kill the chickens. They certainly tried, many times.

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At dusk, when I could see from the house that the chickens were up on their perch, ready for the night, I would go down to the pen to close them in. Pretty always jumped down from her perch and ran to the pen’s gate to meet me. I picked her up, petted her, told her goodnight and put her back on the perch, and there she stayed until I came back to remove the plywood in the morning.

In those days when Captain Gary was away commercial fishing, my dad drove up island to visit me for a couple of days now and then. One day after supper I told my dad, “I have to go close the chickens in, but watch this – Pretty will jump down and come to the gate to meet me when she hears the house door open.”

My dad was dubious, but watched in amazement as Pretty jumped down from her perch the moment I opened the house door to go down to the pen. He saw Pretty run to meet me at the gate, saw me pick her up and pet her, saw me put her back on the perch and saw how she stayed put while I put the plywood in front of the whole row of chickens.

All the squabbly chickens who had their pecking order figured out, had long since died and gone to pecking order “henven,” but Pretty had lived on for several years.Then one day I noticed that Pretty seemed to be sick. She got sicker and sicker, and I said to Captain Gary, “You have to go put her out of her misery.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it,” he said, “but not today. Maybe she’ll get better.” But the poor bird got sicker. I nagged the captain, and he always found an excuse not to do the deed (he loved the chicken too, but would never admit it). Finally, I stomped out of the house and took the axe to the henhouse. I put the axe by the door and went inside to get Pretty. I was crying so much I didn’t know if I could aim the axe to chop her head off, but she wasn’t struggling anyway. I was about to do the deed when the captain came over and quietly took the axe from me. I held poor Pretty and she was dispatched to her own henven. And there by the henhouse, the captain blinked hard as he hugged me and I cried over a chicken.

But just imagine, a plain white chicken being remembered for over 30 years.

Oh, and you may be wondering what happened to Bully, that very large rooster. He went commercial fishing that next summer. I heard he was very tasty.

37 thoughts on “Pretty

  1. When we had the farm we got a few lambs from the neighbour that ended as orphans… Linda hand raised these and they became pets, never to be slaughtered for mutton but lived their life in luxury supplied by Linda and the kids,,, they were like the dogs and ran in and out of the house… one never managed to house train them.. When the kids started with their favourite chicken, I called an end to it… I was not having them in the house…
    Loved this story and the photos…

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  2. Who would think that a chicken could have a wee personality and love a human?? Sweet story Anneli.
    When we lived at Sea Ranch our Schnauzer, Boo, chased 2 raccoons out of the house one Sunday night after a lovely chicken dinner.
    Thankfully they turned and waddled off instead of having a go round with Boo.

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    • Raccoons look cute, but you were right to worry about Boo.They can be quite vicious, and they sure were a terror in the henhouse. We lost several chickens and it was awful to find the chickens lying round dead and dying when we got there too late to save them. It’s amazing the small spaces raccoons will find to get into the most solid henhouse. The space between the roof and the walls, the width of a 2 by 4, was enough to let the killers in.

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  3. When I was a kid on the farm, Dad brought home a batch of chicks every spring. He had a special pen for them with a heat lamp. I loved those little bungles, but I hated them as grown hens when I had to go to collect the eggs for my mother. There was one hen in particular who fought me – flapping and striking out with her feet. I was little and she looked huge up there on her nest. I was so scared of her.

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    • That nasty hen was probably a good mother. I can relate to your story of being scared of animals that seemed a lot bigger to us than they really were. I had the same problem with a goose (or gander, not sure which). Terrified of it.

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    • I worried about that because so many people, especially those who live in cities and have never had to deal with losing chickens to raccoons, don’t know that when you keep livestock you have to protect it, and sometimes that calls for drastic measures. I hate to see any living things get hurt, but these masked bandits kept coming back and killing my babies.

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  4. Well, I don’t know. We’ve had two great dogs so far. At the time we thought Lily was the best, but now Ruby is very good too, and we have a new puppy who promises to rival the other two for best-loved dog. But the chicken?! There will only ever be one Pretty. I felt stupid even posting this story, because it seems so ridiculous to have feelings for a chicken, but …wonders never cease. Thank you for your empathy!

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  5. It sounds like Pretty was such a wonderful bird and I just adore that photo of you and the chicks! Most folks who haven’t kept chickens have no concept as to how much individual personality they have. I used to keep indoor exotic birds until I got my first batch of chickens. Now almost all of my birds are domestic poultry – chicken and waterfowl. Such incredible birds! And even with as many chickens as I have kept, I still cry every time I lose one. They may be utilitarian with their egg laying and manure production, but they’re still pets and family here so I can most certainly relate to your emotions regarding Pretty.

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  6. When I was twelve years old, I had some Bantams in the backyard. One of them, my favorite, became a pet that perched on my shoulder while I
    walked and crowed under my window the first three weeks.I named him Franklin. The next week, he laid an egg.I changed the name to Eleanor.

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  7. Such a lovely story and photos Anneli! I have one remaining hen. And, she is quite a character. A bossy old white thing. She comes when I call her and pecks at the back door since we’ve brought her in at night- to keep her- oddly enough from crowing in the morning. I link her strange crowing habit to the time when she go heat stroke and I soaked her in a bucket to revive her. Before that she laid eggs. But, chickens are truly social animals with personalities. I can so relate to how you bonded with Pretty. So glad she found her way to heaven… and that you were brave enough to consider helping her. You are amazing just like your stories! – Renee

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    • Awww… thanks, Renee. I’m so glad you enjoyed my “Pretty” story. Good to hear that you have chickens and can relate to what it’s like. But what did you do to that poor hen? Sounds like she had a sex change after the shock of the water bath to cool her down.

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  8. I remember Pretty very well. She was just so sweet. Like a few others that have posted on this story, my eyes are also leaking right now, even though I know how the story would end. 😦 Pretty was very lucky to have had her time with you and Captain Gary.

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